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Turning point
I knew there had to be more to life than teeth

October 26, 2004

I have never forgiven Bernard Shaw for saying, "Girls are either beautiful, or go to the university." Not only did he make the teenage me more self conscious, he turned my success into more of a second best.

When it came to careers, my generation of Iranians either faced limited choices at home, or enjoyed infinite options in other countries. The youngest of seven, I was the only one who wasn't sent abroad upon graduation from high school. Furthermore, my registration for the entrance exams to the university--concourse-became limited to my hometown.

Although the justification seemed to be that I was so bright I would do well regardless of where I studied, I have a hunch it had something to do with my wild nature. (I was also the only one never encouraged to pursue music for the fear that I might leave town with the next band of gypsies!)

In those days, Mashad University offered few options.

"I'd like to study literature." I announced.

"Absolutely not!"

"I could be a teacher."


"A writer?"

"Are you running a temperature?"

I wasn't.

"You'll be a doctor. End of the subject."

I spent an entire summer weighing my options. To be a doctor meant facing illness, diseases and ultimately death. I couldn't do that. If any of my patients should die, I knew the sensitive poet in me could have never lived with herself.

I realized I could fulfill my family's doctor dreams by becoming a dentist. After all, chances were, if I played my cards right, no one would die. So I joined the happy class of thirty students at Mashad School of Dentistry. Being a workaholic, I finished each year at the top of my class. But no one could make me give up my dream. Not only did I continue to write in secret, I would try my chances again each and every summer.

"I don't like dentistry. May I now go back and study literature, please?"


"But I hate making dentures," I said half in tears. 

"Finish what you've started and then do what you want."

When I finished, I went to England. Of course I needed an excuse for that, so I enrolled in a Children's Dentistry program at London University. Those little patients brought a bit of joy to my tiresome job.

Life is like a river and its strong current tends to carry us at will. Easy as it sounded to give up and "do what you like," I continued to work as a dentist for years. As I drilled, filled and billed, I drew characters in my mind and formed words for the next story to write. I loved working with children, and when they mispronounced my name, Doctor Garamommy, I became Mom to thousands of little people. True that I enjoyed teaching at Northwestern University, true that my practice climbed to a good level of success, but deep down I knew there had to be more to life than teeth.

One day, it dawned on me. I now DID have a choice! I was no longer the submissive teenager and this wasn't Mashad. Most importantly, with the clock ticking, my time was running out! So I did what I should have done years ago.

I packed all my certificates, diplomas and theses and put them in a box marked: "Here lies the body of..." and buried it somewhere. Although it was disappointing to realize that the gypsies had no interest in taking along a middle aged--and nonmusical--woman, my typewriter seemed happy to have me back. I enrolled in creative writing classes at the university and devoted my time to what I loved the most. 

During the past five years, although I have missed the company of my little patients, not once have I thought about anyone's teeth. I do sometimes have nightmares about exams--especially the American Boards--but never, ever has a dental topic entered my dreams. My analyst says it is because I never was a true dentist. "You don't even look the part," she says.

That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.

Once in a while, someone will ask me a question concerning their teeth. I tell them what I know, but I would do the same if they asked me for a recipe, or the direction to some place.

Life is too short, but how wide is it? I now look around and each day a new horizon opens before me. Indeed as we travel this short distance, isn't it a shame if our eyes are fixated on the end, thus missing the beauty that surrounds us? We're all victims of circumstances, but as long as we live, it can't be too late to reach for a dream. When we are conscious of life's countless dimensions, the length becomes inconsequential.

Now when someone asks me about my occupation, I hold my head high and respond with pride.

"I am a writer."

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance writer, poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.

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